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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Farm reaps holiday bonanza

By Alan Yonan Jr.
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Helemano Farms owner Aaron O'Brien, right, braces a Norfolk Island pine tree for a worker at O'Brien's farm. The business closes for the holidays at sundown today.

DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Norfolk Island pines grow as far as the eye can see at Helemano Farms. Owner Aaron O'Brien has 15,000 Norfolk Island pine and Leyland cypress trees planted there.

DEBORAH BOOKER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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One beneficiary of this year's shortage of imported Christmas trees was Helemano Farms, which saw a surge in sales of the Norfolk Island pines grown at its Central O'ahu plantation.

Owner Aaron O'Brien said yesterday he had sold about 2,000 trees so far this season, a 30 percent to 40 percent increase from the same time last year. Many buyers made the drive out to the tree farm in Whitmore Village after coming up empty at tree lots in town that carried firs and pines shipped in from the Mainland, he said.

"Sales picked up after the word of the shortage got out," said O'Brien. "We had a lot of people who had never been out here before but heard about us while they were standing in line for a tree at Ala Moana Center."

Helemano Farms is scheduled to wrap up for the season today, opening at 10 a.m. and closing at sundown.

Prices start at $40 for 6-foot trees, and go up incrementally based on height. Sales are cash only.

O'Brien said the farm also sold a small amount of popular Leyland cypress trees, which are grown widely in southern states. Most of those cypress trees were too young to be harvested this year, and O'Brien said he should have about 300 ready for harvest next Christmas, and 1,500 to 2,000 in 2011. The last crop of 400 Leyland cypress trees sold out in 2008.

The Leyland cypress, like the Norfolk Island pine, grows well in a warm climate, O'Brien said. He said he experimented with about 30 different varieties of cypress before concluding the Leyland was the best fit for local soil and climate conditions.

Helemano Farms began growing Christmas trees in Central O'ahu in 2002. The farm began as a retirement project of late agriculture executive Mike O'Brien, Aaron's father.